Commission workshop nets full agenda

Blount County commissioners will have a full plate of items to discuss and vote on when they meet on March 19.

During their March 10 workshop, Blount County commissioners sent a wide range of items to the March 19 commission meeting. One issue involved changing the amount of acreage that can be excavated or disturbed without a permit. Another item dealt with getting information about creating planning commission variances for private airstrips because of complaints about a planned Seymour airstrip. One of the last items dealt with giving the school board permission to use $600,000 for architectural and construction management fees on the new Prospect School.

Commissioners began the meeting by questioning Economic Development Board vice president Bryan Daniels about $2 million in tax abatements Alcoa Inc., received for equipment they bought in 2001. Daniels explained that the tax abatement agreement with the company stipulates they have to produce more than 50 percent of 2001 totals of approximately 1.4 billion linear feet of aluminum annually to receive the tax abatements, Daniels said. This equals approximately $2 million in tax abatements over 15 years, he said.

Commissioners questioned whether the recent closing of the smelter at Alcoa, Inc.’s Tennessee operations in Blount County have reduced the total amount of aluminum produced and thus put them in violation of the contract.

Daniels said whether or not they are in violation this year won’t be clear until Feb. 28 of 2010 when they are legally required to report their output to the county. “At that time I’ll evaluate whether they’re legally in violation of the contract. As of today, they have followed the contract totally,” he said. “If they are found to be in violation, then there are formulas within the contract that say how much of that abated money is paid back, and the abatement ends at that date.”

The commissioners passed a resolution onto the March 19 meeting aimed at protecting water quality in the unincorporated county by preventing contamination of stormwater through grading, erosion and sedimentation. An amendment to the motion proposed to change the current county ordinance requiring a permit to disturb more than 1/10th an acre of property and allowing property owners to alter up to 1 acre of their property without a permit.

Stormwater coordinator Justin Teague said the one-tenth of an acre requirement has been in place since 2004. “In every city and county, you disturb anything, you have to get a permit,” Teague said.

Commission chairman Steve Samples said the recommendation was to raise the threshold for needing a permit from 1/10th of an acre to an acre. “There was lots of conversation about stormwater and how it affects private property rights,” he said. “At this point I don’t know if commission will accept it or not.”

Commissioners voted 15 to 5 in favor of sending the measure to the commission. Commissioners John Keeble, Mark Hasty, David Ballard and Mike Walker voted against it, and the remaining commissioners voted in favor of it. Wendy Pitts Reeves was absent.

Commissioners then discussed a planned private air strip Seymour resident Dennis Weaver is building on his property. Commissioner Ron French said he checked out the strip after getting complaints from neighbors. “This is the first time we’ve been approached with this particular problem,” French said. “We need to look at guidelines.”

Commissioner Scott Helton warned commissioners that if they tried to use zoning regulations to curtail airstrips they would also affect other property owners and farmers throughout the county who also have landing strips. “There are several farms in this county that small planes land and go on a regular basis,” he said. “If you change zoning regulations to prevent a landing strip in that area, that can only be controlled by zoning regulations that would take up the entire county.”

Commissioner David Graham said the commission needed legal advice to see if a board of zoning appeals variance could be created to deal with the problem in the future. “”I think the only thing we could do is seek legal advice,” he said. “That’s going to cost money but when it comes to the health and safety of citizens, I don’t mind spending it.”

The commissioners asked Roger Fields with the Planning Department to put together requirements for a variance regarding airstrips for the March 19 meeting. “We need to address this situation at some point,” he said.

Samples said commissioners realize there is a problem in the county regarding the air strip in Seymour. “I think the county commission is quite concerned about the neighborhood and neighbors, and the fact there is already a community air park there,” he said. “I think the commission is obviously concerned about safety hazards this presents.”

Regarding the Prospect Elementary School construction, commissioners voted to discuss at the full meeting whether they’ll allow the school board to use more than $600,000 left over from $2 million commissioners allocated for buying property to pay the project’s construction manager and architect.

Graham asked an amendment be made to the motion that the school board outline how the money will be spent. Commissioners voted 18-0 in favor of the measure. At this point commissioners Brad Harris, Tonya Burchfield and Wendy Pitts Reeves were absent.

For items not on the agenda, Tona Monroe Ball of Greenback asked the commission to pass a resolution asking state lawmakers for a private act allowing county residents to vote on whether they want fluoride out of the water at South Blount Utility. “Let the people vote,” she said.

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